Her company says the development will be conservation-focused, limited to 500 “keys,” which could range from a single room to an eight-bedroom villa. According to Sotheby’s, the “covered roof area” will be capped at 16.5 hectares across 17 islands, with a potential for an additional 20 hectares if approval can be obtained for an additional eight of the islands.
However, environmentalists have expressed objections to the project.
“Ecotourism only works on paper. In reality, tourism is like mining. It will create jobs and it will bring income to people, but the destruction of the environment is not worth the income it earns,” said Parid Ridwanuddin, the coastal and marine campaign manager of WALHI, an Indonesian NGO.
“We are also concerned about this sale of shares. What stocks are we talking about? Is it a controlling interest? The original owner was the one who signed the MOU with the local government. If a new shareholder with a controlling interest suddenly comes into the picture, what effect will that have on the plan for the islands?”
Ridwanuddin also believes local communities will lose access to the islands and “end up as outsiders in their own homes” with private resorts being built there.
Fishermen from Gane Luar, a village on the main island of the province, have for generations been among those who have made a living near the Widi Islands, which they can reach in an hour by speedboat.
“The question, if they open it, can fishermen still go there?” said Sagir Kadir, a fisherman from the village. “Can she forbid us to fish in the area?”
“All we know is fishing, since our ancestors. Like a beach line [is closed to us] there goes our whole fishing area. Where else would we look [for fish] for a living? We might as well go home. We are the ones directly involved.”
In a statement, the company did not answer whether fishing communities would want to curb their activities, but said it had earmarked $1.5 million ($2.2 million) over the coming year to tackle problems such as poaching of endangered species and deforestation. and would set up a conservation center and eco-resorts.
It said its master plan would touch less than 1 percent of the islands’ rainforest, “largely overlapping patches that have already been deforested.”
“The islands chosen for development were chosen not only for their beautiful views and unique features, but precisely because they can be developed without disturbing critical habitats,” the statement said.
“The reserve has large areas designated as no-go areas for tourists (where only scientists on a specific mission can go) and other areas designated as ‘light-footprint’ with a limited number of guests traveling through this incredible wild landscapes are allowed to roam.
“Compared to the Maldives, which allows for a 30 percent roof area, this development represents unparalleled low density and sensitivity, prioritizing Mother Nature at every turn.”
The company has included in comments to the media a testimony from Sari Tolvanen, a marine conservation expert specializing in ecotourism and finance, saying it had “made an extraordinary effort” to listen to his advice.
Perry, who previously created a foundation to help protect children from abuse, has said she would also like to create an ocean-related special economic zone around the reserve.
But she could lose rights to the islands if she can’t get new permits required under revised laws, a provincial government official said.
“LII believes the MOU they signed in 2015 gave them the rights to manage the islands. But according to the new 2020 law, additional permits are required,” said Syahrudin Turuy, the head of the water protection bureau of the province of North Moluccas.
“We asked them to fill in [the application] within six months and we will review their status. If they can’t complete it, we can revoke their rights.”
He said the rights to manage the islands do not mean the company can block access to the local population.
“Fishermen can still fish there,” he said.
Alfadillah, ocean activist for Greenpeace Indonesia, who, like many Indonesians, goes by one name, hopes that the islands will remain undisturbed.
“To preserve an area, leave it alone. No human intervention is needed,” he said.
“Building anything will disrupt the ecosystem.”
– with Karuni Rompies
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